Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Paul Spooner: Curious Contraptions

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Whole lot of physics, engineering, tinkering and art going in the work of automata artist Paul Spooner who makes "curious contraptions".

Here, a short video (3m 54s) video from the world-renowned Exploratorium (San Francisco) where he was a featured artist at the Curious Contraptions exhibition, Spooner talks about his work. He has a wonderful work shop. It looks well-used. A notebook is shown where you get a short glimpse of how he thinks these into existence. Very neat and I could be held captive paging through one of them.

I liked what he has to say about things breaking. That's what they do.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Two Mysteries About Mathematician Alexander Grothendieck

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Maths 

Ed Hessler

I'm not enough of a mathematician or historian of mathematics to say that mathematics can be divided into two periods:before Grothendieck and after Gronthendieck. I take heart in making the distinction in this comment made by M. I. T. mathematician Michael Artin on his contributions to mathematics from Rivka Galchen's fascinating essay in The New Yorker (May 16, 2022) on Grothendieck's life. "'Well, everything changed in the field. He came, and it was like night and day. It was a revolution."'  

I must add that Artin worked with Grothendieck during his career. The Artin quote is preceded by support for his statement by logician and philosopher of mathematics at Case Western, Colin McLarty.

So much in Galchen's reporting captured my attention and made me think. As usual I have picked only a very few items to highlight and urge that you read it. The reporting is a beautifully told story, based on facts - Grothendieck's mathematics personal - it is a beautifully told story.

Galchen begins with an anecdote about Grothendieck learning the definition of a circle - a foreshadowing of his mathematics. "He rewrote definitions, even of things as basic as a point, his reframings uncovered connections between seemingly unrelated realms of math."  While a child in an interment camp, Grothendieck criticized "his textbooks as lacking 'serious' definitions of length, area, and volume." 

In addition to definitions,Grothendieck "'named things,'" which may not sound like much at first but "according to mathematician Ravi Vakil 'there's a lot of power in naming..'" Galchen makes this observation. "In the forbiddingly complex world of math, sometimes something as simple as new language leads you to discoveries." And Vakil provides an example. "'It's like when Newton defined weight and mass. They had not been distinguished before. And suddenly you could understand what was previously muddled.'" *

It was his abrupt leaving of mathematics and what followed - two mysteries - in which Galchen places Grothensieck's  mathematical life. One observation reminded of an idea that is important in teaching and learning mathematics: soak time. When stuck consider and  re-consider the problem, even set it aside, looking for an opening. This is not at all easy to learn do. We want answers. Now. When one is  not forthcoming we give up with declarations such as I'm not good at maths. Neither are my Mom and Dad. Q.E.D. "Grothendieck spoke of problem solving as akin to opening a hard nut. You could open it with sharp tools and a hammer, but that was not his way.. He said that it was better to put the nut in liquid, to led it soak, even to walk away from it, until eventually it opened."

In a recent New York Times (April 6 2022) article by Jenny Anderson, republished in the Minneapolis StarTribune (April 1, 2022) discusses "the learning pit" which is "a metaphor (for) one of several common educational strategies that lean into the idea that struggle is something to be embraced." The idea is to learn to get comfortable "with being a little uncomfortable." Of course the problems should be age appropriate and tools need to be provided to help students" climb out of the pit. The twin ideas of struggle and learning your way out are "vital to learning (and) well established."  The aim is a constructive mindset. The article has several references if you are interested in pursuing this educational intervention. Here is the link to the story in the NYT. It may be available if you haven't exceeded your limited free access. I can't find it in the StarTribune.

Grothendieck had a very sharp side that infected all his relationships, including his family. He allowed himself to ride his motorbike to work but his wife, Mireille, was not allowed to drive a car."  The family shopping was done on foot. Mathematician Barry Mazur and his wife once spent tine with the Grothendiecks near Paris. Upon arriving at the Mazurs for dinner, "'(Gronthendieck) came in and saw the spread and said with a big smile This is wonderful! And then he turned to Mireille and said in a harsh voice, See how easy it is to make a vegetarian meal!" "Mazur added, 'Of course, it was Mireille who had the burden and responsibility of taking care of all those people." Grothendeick also vilified mathematicians who solved a problem that "didn't use the foundational systems Gronthendieck had established." Galchen relates an interesting, perhaps apochraphyl,  story about Pythagoras who also demanded a cult-like following and the result for one who didn't.

American mathematician, Leila Schneps, who upon reading a Grothendieck ms. recommended to her by Pierre Lochak who is now her partner said she didn't think she "would be drawn to Grothendieck's work."  She was and told Galchen "'One idea in there is that we have been writing math in a way that is all wrong.'" "Grothendieck argues that mathematicians hide all of the discovery process, and make it appear smooth and deductive.'" "He said that, because of this, the creative side of math is totally misunderstand. He said it should be written in a different way, that shows all the thinking, all the wrong turns---that he wanted to write it in a way that emphasized the creative process."

She and her husband set out to find Grothendieck and evenutually found him, a "thin bearded man, buying vegetables in the market." What followed was "a tremendous, demanding, tumultuous friendship." Shortly before his death, "Grothendieck shed or burned most of  his meagre possessions;" one he kept was "a painting of his father in the internment camp."

I'd never heard of Alexander Gothendieck and finished this brief history of a life that had such deep implications for a field, quite an accomplishment, wishing it had been longer. I hope you like it as well.

* Research on misconceptions in science has demonstrated that K-12 students have difficulty with a surprising number of scientific concepts and that it takes time and effort to learn new scientific ways of thinking about them as well as in using them correctly. Interestingly, Project 2061's Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (1993),  made this observation about the distinction mentioned several that are especially difficult. "Heat energy itself is a surprisingly difficult idea for students, who thoroughly confound it with the idea of temperature. A great deal of work is required for students to make the distinction successfully, and the heat/temperature distinction may join mass/weight, speed/acceleration, and power/energy distinctions as topics that, for purposes of literacy, are not worth the extraordinary time required to learn them." ((p. 81).

I'm not current with recent research on any of the above but I thought this was worth mentioning.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Mary Anning Statue Unveiled

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Paleontology, History of Science, Nature of Science, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Geology

Ed Hessler

A seafront statue of palaeontolgist Mary Anning has been unveiled near her hometown of Lyme Regis, Dorset

The introduction to the story from the BBC says "Anning's discoveries in the early 19th Century helped shape scientific understanding of prehistoric life, but her work was never properly recognised.

"Evie Squire, 15, campaigned for four years for the memorial, which was unveiled on what would have been Anning's 223rd birthday.

"The fossil hunter lived in Lyme Regis, part of what is now called the Jurassic Coast, and began searching the coastline as a child."


"She was the first person to discover a complete plesiosaurus, in 1823." This Wiki entry includes an autographed letter from Mary which includes her drawing of the fossil


There are different takes on whether she inspired the rhyme "She sells Seashells by the Seashore...", which this entry from the American Folklife Center describes including what would constitute convincing evidence - a thorough discussion. You may listen to the song and read the lyrics there, too.


The story about her providing the inspiration for the rhyme is one I would like to be true but it lacks any evidence, based as it is on outright claims as though it were a known truth. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Land Art

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment, Nature

Ed Hessler

I pick and choose segments of CBS Sunday morning based on interests and time. Correspondent Seth Doane reported a story May 22, 2022 about land/earth artist Jon Foreman (Wales), "whose canvas is a beach." The segment (3m 44s) shows a fair sample of his work - including the last moment of one of them being erased by the tide - and the discussion is thoughtful.

Land art is ephemeral with a few exceptions that have become permanent installations, mostly stone walls which will last for years with some occasional maintenance, I'd expect. It makes use of what is at hand, items such as twigs, branches, leaves, ice, snow, sand, pebbles, etc., and is created outdoors. The most notable land/earth artist is probably Andy Goldsworthy who is mentioned in this feature. 

Here is the Wiki entry about him and here is a digital catalogue of 10 years of Goldsworthy's work  in which you can browse stills by year, form, material, and place.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Today's poem, Nine Spice Mix, is by Zeina Azzam.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Paul Farmer: In His Own Words

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

As you probably know Dr. Paul Farmer died recently. He dedicated his life (October 26 1959 - February 21 2022) to providing health care for people in the world's poorest country (Haiti).  Gates Notes (4m 06s) is a small collection of clips from interviews "to give you a sense of what he was like and why his patients and colleagues loved him so much."

Farmer was one of the founders of the noted health organization Partners in Health (PiH), which serves the poorest of the poor.

The Wiki entry at the top includes many details about him and the work he chose to do.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Where I Work

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Where I Work (Nature May 10, 2022) features Mercedes Segovia (MD, PhD) Pasteur Institute of Montevideo) who while doing a medical internship "became curious about what happens before patients reach the hospital: I wanted to help people before they start to feel ill, as opposed to just trying to treat symptoms."

She writes "I think to be successful in this career, you must have passion, patience and — above all — a tolerance for frustration." Plenty of frustration (and pleasures) in science. 

Her marriage led her to France and a decade later she, her husband and their two children returned to Uruguay. He is also an immunologist.

I hope you read this very short article about a career in science.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Black Holes: In the Office or Laboratory

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

You will recall concerns around 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator was about to move from completed project to operation that it could create a black hole and just might destroy us in the process as it chomped willy-nilly on the planet. Obviously, this didn't happen. Furthermore, they don't create black holes.

Sabine Hossenfelder of BackReaction tells us what it takes to make one and reviews some of the physics of black holes. The video comes in at 12m 39s is on both the blog site and on YouTube but you must be weary of my reminder that her site includes the transcript and the talk while the YouTube video. I like both in front of me.

Here is the opening which serves as an abstract of what follows. "Wouldn’t it be cool to have a little black hole in your office? You know, maybe as a trash bin. Or to move around the furniture. Or just as a kind of nerdy gimmick. Why can we not make black holes? Or can we? If we could, what could we do with them? And what’s a black hole laser? That’s what we’ll talk about today."

Black holes are one of the fascinations of the cosmos and unless you are an expert, you may find a new insight. I admit without a shred of embarassment or apology that I'm one of her fans.

Monday, May 23, 2022

How Venus Flytraps Make Food Choices

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

From SciFriday is this video  (5m 26s) presented on October 30, 2019 about the biology and ecology of the bog plant , the Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Most of us know little about it except for its fascinating diet: insects. These are caught by long-toothed leaves--"My what big teeth you have! We leave it there. There is nothing left to see or know.

However, the plants have lovely white flowers, dainty compared to their elegant snap-trap leaves which leads to many questions since the flowers attract pollinators. So, while the plants are busy capturing protein on the wing how do they avoid making the wrong menu choice?This is a research story about the life history of a relatively unknown plant.

It features a graduate student--Laurie Hamon and research advisor, Professor Elsa Youngsteadt, North Carolina State University. There are two other students in the video who might have been undergraduate students but I couldn't find them on Youngsteadt's web site. They are acknowledged in the credits at the end of the description.

The video, produced by Luke Groskin, provides a great glimpse into how something noticed, becomes puzzling question is turned into one that can be investigated--no holds barred. All with evidence in mind. There is also a story of how field work and laboratory work-the bench--are joined. This video is about hard, meticulous work with great attention to detai..

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The W-Boson Findings

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

Scientists, particularly those with a theoretical orientation, spend considerable time and effort searching for flaws in theories although practicing scientists do the same with their hypotheses as they seek evidence that support and don't support them. This includes using multiple lines of evidence.

Recently, dramatic headlines have appeared indicating that theoretical physicists are concerned about a new measurement, an anomaly, that challenges a well-established theory, known as the Standard Model, that  explains the behavior of all the universe's particles. Words and phrases such as "worried," "shocking," "re-writing textbooks," "everything we know about the universe is wrong," etc., are used to bait the reader to read on. For two examples from the popular science press see here and here.

Theoreticians and experimentalists not so much. Their concern is with the evidence. How good...trustworthy is it and does it meet the standard of firm evidence or is the measurement flawed?

BackReaction's Sabine Hossenfelder asks "How seriously should you take this?" In a new talk she explains. It is worth taking a look for she includes some history, related ideas, comments on the data as well as what one of the large tools of particle physics research can and cannot do and also her reason for leaving particle physics research.

The quote above are the words of the healthy skepticism scientists bring to their work, including their own. Maybe. Maybe not. It's all about the evidence. Hossenfelder's closing sentence is folksy. "It’s possible of course that one of those is the real thing, but to borrow a German idiom, don’t eat the headlines as hot as they’re cooked."

The BackReaction site includes a transcript and a link to the video on YouTube which doesn't. The latter likely includes some graphic information the transcript doesn't, e.g., graphs, etc.

If you would like to know about or more about the Standard Model--the most successful scientific theory ever-- this 16m 24s video from Quanta  received many good comments on its clarity.  This stuff is not easy peasey.

Saturday, May 21, 2022


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Agriculture

Ed Hessler

Where, oh where, is pretty little Suzie?/ Where, oh where, is pretty little Suzie?/ Where, oh where, is pretty little Suzie?/  Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch." -- Traditional American Folk Song

Have you ever eaten an eastern North American pawpaw (Asimina triloba)  or had pawpaw in any form? I haven't although I've heard of them. This BBC Travel feature by Jonathan Shipley brought me up-to-date on the fruit and its many delights, including beauty. After reading it, I think it has to be one of America's better food secrets. 

Pawpaws have a wide geographic distribution in the United States--"found in 26 states such as Texas, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and Michigan and all the way up to Ontario, Canada." There may be some reasons for our ignorance of this fruit, including that they are not grown on a large scale, they require wet, low growing conditions and have a short after-harvest "shelf life" of only a few days.

Shipley's reporting includes a link to pawpaw enthusiast, Michael Judd who has written a book on growing and caring for them, "from seed to table." In late summer, Judd will be "hosting his seventh annual pawpaw festival...on his farm in Frederick, Maryland, which includes tastings, jam making, pawpaw ice cream, music lectures and more." The Judd site has a variety of fascinating videos and information about the event - really worth the visit.

These festivals, it turns out, are not unusual and Shipley reports that one in Ohio had almost "'10,000 visitors last year' according to Christ Chmiel, "co-owner of a farm which grows pawpaws, ships pawpaw products and helps organize the Albany annual festival." The festival includes, said Chmiel, '"a pawpaw cook-off, best pawpaw competition and (of course) a pawpaw eating competition. The pawpaw beer has been a huge success for the festival." A TEDx Talk given by Chmiel in 2018 is linked.

Shipley describes fossil evidence, evidence for the role of  Indians in its dispersal based on the research Choctaw Nation professor Dr. Devon Mihesuah (linked), some history (de Soto, Washington, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark), as well as hypotheses on the role of magafauna (e.g., mammoths, giant beavers, sloths) in their northward dispersal.

Chefs and brewers are busy raising awareness and there are pawpaw research programs at Iowa State University and Kentucky State University

"It's an enthusiastic collection," reports Shipley, "of hard - working individuals eager to put the pawpaw on a bigger stage. George Washington would be pleased." 

Fascinating report with some superb photographs.   

h/t Shipley included the verses in the epigraph, a song I did know with no idea of what a pawpaw patch was.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Potential Energy*

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability

Ed Hessler 

The other side of a renewable energy future is renewable storage to smooth out the bumps and ruts when the wind dies down or when it is cloudy/rainy (for days) and when international supplies to needed raw materials are interrupted or when the social and environmental costs of raw materials for lithium (Li-ion) batteries (cobalt) are taken into account. 

Energy storage is a looming hurdle. Acording to Matthew Hutson who notes in an article on energy storage technologies for The New Yorker (April 25 & May 2, 2022) where he is a contributing writer, that "by one estimate, we'll require at least a hundred times more storage by 2040 if we want to shift largely to renewables and avoid climate catastrophe."

Hutson refers to two of those interrupts (solar and wind) as the "'dark doldrums'" noted the largest energy storage capacity in the world (90%) is found in reservoirs -  known as pumped-storage hydropower. A more diversified portfolio is needed and he discusses the start-ups, driven by non-risk averse entrepreneurs who are on the hunt "for new approaches to energy storage."

I don't recall much press attention when then "President Donald Trump signed into law the Energy Act of 2020, which included the bipartisan (imagine) Better Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Act, authorizing a billion dollars to be spent over five years on the 'research, development, and demonstration' of new energy storage technology." Hutson also mentions policies that have followed, e.g.,  states setting energy storage-capacity targets and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) order "which integrates stored energy into the wholesale electricity market."

And then Hutson reminds us of a "vast distance separates an engineer's whiteboard from reality. Many renewable-storage technologies receiving funding will turn out to be too impractical, expensive, or inefficient for widespread adoption." Storing energy is expensive no matter how you come at it. 

It has been pointed out by many that fossil fuels meet requirements we like. They are "predictable, convenient, and dense packing  lots of power into small space" and readily scale-up.This is the challenge for those seeking energy storage capacity solutions.

Politics will no doubt play a role and "may become a partisan issue if it begins clearly helping renewable energy to threaten fossil fuels."  There will be those who benefit and those who lose, "even if as a society---and a planet---we come out ahead." In closing, Hutson observes that "Nature can help us generate power. Maybe it can help us hold on to it, too."

The article is on line here. I hope you will read it. I found it thorough, often surprising and that it is "possible to envision a future in which some of the technology works out, and the globe is reshaped by a combination of renewable energy and renewable storage." Hutson provides a thumb-nail sketch of what such a world might look like. It is an ideal of course.

*h/t The title which I admired is from print edition of The New Yorker article (April 25 & May 2, 2022) by Matthew Hutson. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bake The Moon

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Astronomy

Ed Hessler

"Just when I thought I couldn’t love banana bread more, " writes Flora Graham, Senior Editor, Nature Briefing, "the European Space Agency (ESA) publishes a recipe that contains the main chemical elements found on the Moon."

This link includes the details, including how to participate. A contest kicked-off 17 May, 2022,  World Baking Day.



Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Egg Laying: Evolutionary Biology and Behavior

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution, behavior

Ed Hessler

One (of many) reasons I find to read Jim Williams's Minneapolis Star Tribune columns on birds is because they often include comments on biological evolution and behavior.

A recent example is a column about tree swallows in which reported on nesting and reproductive behavior of a pair, which nested in an egg box Williams maintains, followed by comments on the timing and sequence of egg laying.

First he notes that "monogamy -- one paired mate -- is a fact of life for most bird species." Still, birds sometimes do "mate outside the pair in a nesting season." He noted one likely attempt when a male "flew close to the (nest) box" and was immediately "attacked by the resident male" in "brief but serious combat."

This behavior is all about genes and getting them into the next generation with each male vying for to do this and each female making a choice on the best mate based on features such as defense of territory. As Williams wrote about the incident he witnessed, the resident male "wanted maximum return on investment. The intruder was looking for return with minimum investment."

Songbirds, in general, are early morning egg layers, and "in the next hour "the next egg in sequence is fertilized." Here are some possible reasons for this sequence based on research hypotheses: "eggs are most vulnerable to harm just before they are to be laid" and night provides "the critical hours for completion of the egg," which is the time "the bird is less likely to be active." Tree swallows "feed on the wing" which frees the female from carrying a fully developed egg. Robins, on the other hand, lay eggs midmorning and because they are ground feeders finding sufficient food, rich in protein, eggs are not likely to suffer damage until laid by "holding an egg," while the egg is completing final development.

By the way, the male resident tree swallow, "given the chance...could well have been" a rival to another pair. The ideas discussed fall under the evolutionary concept of fitness --" reproductive success " and "reflects how well an organism is adapted to its environment." (see here)

Mr. Williams wrote the column titled "Birds pair off and get down to business" for the April 20, 2022 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The week following (April 27, 2022) another column was on genetics and evolutionary biology. Birds have an inactive gene have for teeth which is now used to make feathers. But some times a mutation will start the tooth forming process although the birds do not survive. Then he continues with a discussion of the formation of the bill, "the avian equivalent of the Swiss Army knife." Another terrific article, one that includes indirect observations on the need for suitable habitat. "Where can you find birds? Where their tools are best suited for use." And when you begin to spend some time observing birds in their habitats you will find that they further partition the habitat. Warblers provide an example, especially on their journey north. Some choose bushes near the ground, while others choose their tops; others distribute themselves in trees.

Both articles and the entire previous 229 he has written to date are found hereStar Tribune articles are behind a subscription paywall as you would expect.  If you are interested in birds, in science, in nature and how the feathery side of the world works, Mr. Williams is a reliable, knowledgeable and friendly guide.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Nature's Hotheads

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Biodiversity, Biological Evolutio, History of Sciencen

Ed Hessler

By the time I post this,  the leaves of the small populations of  resident Minnesota eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) will have passed their peak. I hope you saw them in the snow.

Twin Cities Dr. Craig Bowron is an internist who wrote an essay for MinnPost that tells us all about these fascinating but stinky plants. Minnesota is at the northern and western range of the eastern skunk cabbage which "Grows only in moist swampy lowlands, the kind of places where the coldest and densest air of the night settles out and intensifies its chill."

The plant looks out of place and remind me of exotic places like the tropics of imagination. They were plants I looked for when I was a kid on rambles in the wetlands "up the hill".  This colorful and strange appearing plant was  reminder of how close spring was.

Bowron's essay describes their ecology, life cycle and reminds us that this plant's spring behavior is about genes. The only goal is to get pollinated and they co-opt some insects to do the cross-pollination work. While doing this work there is a pay-off for some of the insects, too. Bowron includes a link to a readable essay in the magazine Natural History by Robert Knutson who was the first to study their heating and respiration patterns. 

Knutson describes the skunk cabbage's ecology (including the surface anatomy of their stem and root), evolutionary relationships, insect and spider visitors, how he did his research/findings, the likely earliest description, and how its seeds germinate and grow.

Another splendid essay by Craig Holdredge of The Nature Institute published in Context #4 (Fall, 2000) includes additional information and useful drawings of and about the root system, fruit heads, and skunk cabbage development. To be able to read Knutson's description of the digging up of a skunk cabbage root system and to see the drawing by Holdredge is one of the pleasures of reading the essays.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Inner Rings of A Familiar Galaxy

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics, History of Science 

I'd never seen an image of a spiral galaxy that looked like this and was immediately captured by its beauty. I could not even come close to explaining the shape. The only feature I recognized was the familiar central bar. But the second ring? Zounds.

All is explained and I learned that some spiral galaxies have a third ring even further out. 

An old expression came to mind, one from the 60s: Far out!


Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Grin From Far, Far Away

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Universe, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Whaddaya' know, gravity smiles from the aptly named Cheshire Cat galaxy group, in the constellation Ursa Major.

It is due to gravitational lensing, predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity and when scientists and engineers devised the technology to observe it another confirming piece of evidence. The link lists and discusses all the tests of this powerful theory. The number might surprise you and also is a demonstration of the relentlessness of scientists to stress test theories.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) features and discusses "Gravity's Grin."

Friday, May 13, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Today's poem is by Laurie-Anne Bosselaar.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

3D Female Human Anatomy Models

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Medicine, Health

Ed Hessler

I wish this clip from the BBC (1m 23s) on a new 3D female anatomy model was several minutes longer but it provides an idea of some of the differences between the anatomy of men and women. This, it turns out, has important and long-overlooked implications - a few are noted - for women who come to a physician for routine checks, concerns as well as for the accuracy of a diagnosis and recommended treatment. The model is currently being used in two medical schools in the UK: Brighton and Sussex Medical School. What lovely creatures we are at this basic structural level.

For more on such models see this press release from the UMass Chan Medical School about anatomist Yasmin Carter who played a lead role in the design of a 3D female anatomy teaching model. It includes a video, too. And here is a page about that model from the publisher, Elsevier.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Green Roof: Beating the Heat in Delhi

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change, Global Change, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

As you know India is sweltering with temperatures above 100 common. In April, the maximum in the capital city of Delhi averaged more than 104 degrees.

In this short video (1m 24s) from the BBC, is shown a climate adaptation designed by a tuk-tuk driver in Delhi.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

ZeFrank has a new video about sea stars.

By now you know that some like his humor, some dislike it strongly, finding the remarks obnoxious and at times not family friendly. I don't like his humor in general but I still watch because the videos are darn good and scientifically accurate. They also have a base in his conversations with experts and the literature.

Okay. You've been warned and are on your own.

Please scan the comments for further views, mostly complimentary but it is hardly a random sample.

This entry is a long one - 18m 37s, which gives you an idea from the outset that these ocean critters are complex. ZeFrank gives nature its due.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Climate and The World's Food Systems: World Food Prize Laureate 2022

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Sustainability

Ed Hessler 

Goats and Soda (NPR) has a story about Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig who was named the 2022 World Food Prize Laureate "for her wok to determine the impact of climate change on worldwide food production.

Julia Simon who reported the story noted that "one big question" has informed Rosenzweig's research: "'So What?'" It is an important question with its implications for all of us.

After a brief introduction which provides some details about her scientific life, an interview with Dr. Rosensweig follows. It includes these topics: what has most surprised her, her use of models,when she realized that climate change is the most significant threat to earth's food systems, a question asked by a farmer in Northern Nigeria, stakeholder - riven research, eco-anxiety, her unwillingness to consider the idea of failure and her life-long enthusiasm, how she intends to use the prize money ($250,000 US).

You will also find some links in the story which you may read here.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

3m 05s With A Great Horned Owl Chick

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Behavior

Ed Hessler

I couldn't resist posting this short video from CBS Sunday Morning's Nature series in which we spend some time with a Great Horned Owl chick with occasional clips of a parent as well. 

The adults are large and so beautifully colored--20, 30, 40 50 shades of brown to begin with other cosmetic-like colors added. These owls are eaters of almost everything, real omnivores.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Frost On A Windowshield

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Nature

Ed Hessler

A University of Colorado physicist whom I knew - now deceased - used to take pictues of frost and snow patterns as he walked to his office and laboratory. He then wrote articles about the physics of the patterns and what they revealed about conditions creating the patterns as well as what influenced their development overnight..

An image from Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) brought those pleasant memories to the surface. It is of melting frost on a windshield and the explanation is clear. And the crystals are shown in various states: melted, in-between and full crystals. The crystal shapes are very intricate, not having the six-sided symmetry of three-dimensional snow crystals.

Great links as well of related crystals and student links add much to the explanation.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Fiiday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Science 

Ed Hessler

For a while I've been considering dropping the preliminary material. Dive right into to the poem. Today is the day. It is not that I'm disinterested in what I've included but the poem is the purpose...

What I'm most interested in posting, it's central purpose, are poems. The other stuff seems a distraction.

Today's poem is by Marc Alan Di MartinoAmazon provides basic information about him and also links to his books.

I hope this better late than never is just that.

Split the Universe!

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmology, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

This entry from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is about a thought experiment in quantum mechanics--a paradox-- first considered by the immensely talented theoretical physicist, Erwin Schrodinger. It became known as Schrodinger's cat.

The APOD crew close the accompanying explanation--well-linked, including one to the 25th birthday celebration for APOD, a must see, and a silly button, again not to be missed-- by saying "regardless of the outcome, you should have a thought-provoking day. Or two." No question about that!

And I because I need more help in understanding this even the surface features so I turned to theoretician, Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder who in this 11m 08s video is a guide to the territory. And here is the same video with a transcript from her blog, BackReaction.  

For another view see Nobel Prize winner (2021) Roger Penrose  in a discussion with psychologist Jordan Peterson about the physics of consciousness. It includes comments on the wave collapse. (video 6m 33s).  Regardless, these explanations will likely still leave you squeezing and scratching your forehead but it does reveal the complexity of nature and some of the difficulties at understanding at the level of quantum physics. I think it is impossible without knowing and being able to do the maths with some adroitness.                           

Thursday, May 5, 2022

After the Flames

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Global Change, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

Wildfires have become a commonplace worldwide and are becoming more frequent. These fires have consequences, ones that do not receive as much airtime as the event.

This video (9m 01s) is an introduction to the research of Dr. Amir AghaKouchak who, with his graduate and post-doctoral students is doing research on what happens after the flames in the hills of California.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Strandbeest Evolution as of 2021

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

The evolutionary development of the mechanical sculptures known as Strandbeest is updated by their creator Theo Jansen in this short, soothing, marvelous video (4m 30s) for the year 2021. I sometimes want to think of them as a new form of life!

The Jansen link includes a family tree of the Streenbeast design evolution, each with an appropriate two-part name (a binomial). The fall and winter creations are tested in the spring and summer and modified in response to their environmental behavior. 

It may be tempting to make an analogy between Jansen's spring/summer interventions which are common engineering practices and with Darwinian ideas for the mechanism of adaptive evolution. So to be short, even abrupt: Don't! I'm not going to further explain but a few links are provided below if you are interested.

Here are a few differences: there is no blueprint in advance...no envisioned, the aim is not optimality but about getting genes into the next generation, natural selection works with what is at hand (relentless tinkering;as Darwin put it "the variations are relentlessly scrutinized"), individuals do not evolve but populations do.  Jansen is able to directly intervenes on a single machine, not a population of them, replacing/removing/modifying parts, able to immediately observe the effects, making further changes when necessary with a specific aim in mind. achieve the vision he had in mind.

For starters see this, this, and from the University of California Understanding Evolution website. selection.

Jansen notes that "at summer's end the Strandbeest are declared extinct," with some of the parts pitched into the "boneyard," becoming "fossils." You can see some of the fossils at his website where they are for sale.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Dino Poop Detective

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Geology, Earth Systems, Paleontology

University of Colorado Department of Geological Sciences professor Dr. Karen Chin is a hunter for fossilized dinosaur feces, known as coprolites. She uses them to study their diet, the conditions under which they were preserved and to learn about ancient paleo communities and ecosystems.

Science Friday presented her work on how she studies the deep past using coprolites on The Macroscope (video 7m 01s).

Monday, May 2, 2022

Mosquito Time

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Evolutionary Biology

Ed Hessler

Mosquitoes are getting anxious so some True Facts about The Mosquito by Ze Frank (October 9, 2021) are not likely outdated although the thought of them is one you might wish to defer.

Here is a long one (17m 10s), but in mosquito country it is both necessary and worth the time. When Ze Frank talks mosquitoes he means mosquitoes.

You know all about Ze Frank so you are on your own, including reading the comments with their usual range from informed to uninformed. I find some gross; others find them funny. And I'm not, as you know, a great fan of his humor but I am a fan of the accuracy of these videos which are deeply researched.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

2021 Sky

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Earth & Space Science, Solar System

Ed Hessler

Days and nights arrive and leave. What do a year's worth of them look like when combined?

In 2021, a skycam took a photo of the skies overhead every 15 minutes and then, I assume, powerful computers took over and created a picture of the entire year. It is revealing and provided me a new way to think about the overhead, e.g., as a dark hour glass embedded in a palette of fading blues.

The image is featured, with an explanation, on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Run your cursor across it to read the labels